Review(s): My weekend of unrelated music featuring Chris Thile, Edgar Meyer, Tim Berne & HONK! NYC

After being sick last week, I was really in the mood to get out and see some shows this past weekend. I was in luck, because there was a lot of good stuff on the concert calendar. (Did you notice I added an NYC concert calendar to the sidebar? I did. It’s sort of in beta testing right now, but check it out if you’re in the area and let me know what you think.)

First up on Saturday night was the duo of Chris Thile (mandolin, guitar) and Edgar Meyer (upright bass, piano) at Town Hall. I’ve repeatedly had bad luck getting good seats for shows at Town Hall, but this time my ticket karma came through. The show had gone on sale months before I moved to NYC and I’d long ago given up hope of getting any kind of decent seat. But I kept checking back just in case… and about a week before the show: front row dead center popped up on Ticketmaster. Yes, please, and thank you!

I didn’t even really know what kind of music they’d be playing – I was so busy this summer I’m behind on listening to absolutely everything, and I was mostly just going on my friend Mark’s recommendation to see them. I’ve seen Chris Thile a few times before, but was new to the work of Edgar Meyer. Thile is a virtuoso and you can generally expect him to do amazing things, but I was really blown away by Meyer’s bass playing. Holy cow, can that man handle an upright bass! I’ve seen a lot of concerts, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bassist play like that. I found myself watching him almost the whole time. I’m skipping the videos I took myself and giving you something professionally recorded since the audio quality is so key with these two:

They are at the tail end of their U.S. tour, but there are two more dates this week in Ann Arbor and Chicago. Click here for details on the tour and their new album.

Sunday night was a totally different scene: the last night of saxophonist Tim Berne’s residency at the Stone. I’d wanted to catch a couple of nights but wasn’t feeling up to it until the weekend, when he was playing with two different (but similar) bands. The early set was “Decay,” with Tim Berne on sax, Ryan Ferreira on electric guitar, Michael Formanek on upright bass and Ches Smith on drums (because, clearly, I didn’t hear enough of his drumming during his own residency the week before!). The late set was “Cornered,” with those four plus Oscar Noriega on clarinet and Matt Mitchell on piano. These bands were fairly similar to his (relatively) well-known band, Snakeoil, which had played for several nights in a row earlier in the week.
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The most egregious collection of catching-up mini-reviews the world has ever seen! Featuring such luminaries as Goblin, Secret Chiefs 3, the Dresden Dolls, Bill Frisell, Jason Webley, Chris Thile, and more.

So… in the last 5-6 weeks, I’ve seen 29 concerts (and spent 17 nights away from home doing so). I managed to review 21 of them, which is respectable – but it still leaves me pretty far behind. Some of the shows were particularly good (and there is some good video footage) so I didn’t want to leave them completely unblogged, but I really can’t remember them all well enough at this point to write full reviews. So: to the mini-reviews! I present them to you in chronological order.

Sept 20, 2013. Bill Frisell, Sam Amidon, Jason Moran, Alicia Hall Moran: The show was entitled “Gershwin & Beyond” and was part of the Frisell-curated “Roots of Americana” series at Lincoln Center. The concert was in the absolutely beautiful Allen Room (it’s hard to imagine a prettier place to see a show, for my tastes) and I had a front-row seat. Perfect, right? It was the first concert in my 10-day trip to NYC for Zorn@60, and unfortunately it was a poor match for my mood: I was EXTREMELY EXCITED about that week, I’d been looking forward to it and making plans for months, but the concert was almost universally downtempo and often sad music – I had a hard time switching gears. There were a few very pretty songs, though. I remember really liking “Shenandoah,” sung by Alicia Hall Moran. I unfortunately deleted, by accident, a bunch of videos and photos from that show. (Sorry…)

Sept 24, 2013. The Tri-Centric Orchestra: This event was at Roulette in Brooklyn, on the Tuesday night during our Zorn@60 week when John Zorn apparently decided to take a night off. I like Roulette a lot, but don’t get to go there very often. I was attracted to the show by the orchestra lineup, including 30 or 40 musicians and vocalists – lots of names were familiar to me (Taylor Ho Bynum, Jessica Pavone, Marika Hughes, Ken Filiano, Nate Wooley, Curtis Hasselbring, etc.). They performed three new works (by Ingrid Laubrock, Taylor Ho Bynum, and Mark Taylor) as well as premiering an Anthony Braxton piece written in 1973 but never performed, Composition No. 27. This was a fun night of new music and I especially liked the Mark Taylor composition, even though he was the only one of the composers I’d never heard of before. I’ll have to check out some more of his work.

Oct 7, 2013. A Tribute to Rebecca Rosenthal (including the Dresden Dolls, Jason Webley, etc.): This was a concert organized as a fundraiser and memorial/tribute to a local woman, Rebecca Rosenthal aka Becca Darling, who died unexpectedly and far too young. (You might have seen her in Amanda Palmer’s “Oasis” music video – NSFW – or Neil Gaiman’s short film, “Statuesque,” both of which were screened for us during the concert.) There were many performers during the night, including friends and favorite musicians of Rebecca; but the headliners would probably be considered the Dresden Dolls (with Jason Webley as, er, runner-up headliner). I really liked both of their sets, and filmed some of it. See Jason Webley by clicking here and/or watch the Dresden Dolls here:

If you are interested in making a donation to a scholarship in Rebecca Rosenthal’s memory – click here.

Oct 9, 2013. Secret Chiefs 3: The next concert I went to, at the Sinclair in Cambridge, was Secret Chiefs 3 opening for Goblin. (more…)

Concert Review: Chris Thile and Brad Mehldau (4/14/2013)

On Sunday night I headed across the river to Boston for a show at the Berklee Performance Center – Chris Thile and Brad Mehldau. I’m a member of World Music/CRASHArts, which presented the concert, and I’d picked up a ticket when they put the current season on sale without knowing much about it. I ended up having an unexpectedly busy couple of weeks beforehand and didn’t manage to do any sort of research before the show – I pretty much walked in having no idea what to expect. (This can be a great way to see a concert, though!)

I’d seen Thile a few times before, with the Punch Brothers and with Michael Daves; but I’d never managed to see Brad Mehldau. (I had a ticket to see him at Montreal Jazz Fest once, but the band I saw earlier in the evening was so powerful that I had to go back to my hotel and lie down instead. A lost opportunity, but sometimes even the hardiest concertgoer has a hard time seeing 17+ hours of live music in three cities in one week.) All I really knew was that I should be seeing an interesting mix of a jazz pianist and a genre-defying (but originally bluegrass) mandolin player. Jazz and bluegrass might seem like an odd combination to some people, but they are actually a perfect match; like jazz, bluegrass has a heavy focus on improvisation. Both musicians have huge reputations, so I knew they would be able to pull off whatever they put their minds to.

The majority of songs they played were covers, from a wide range of songwriters (e.g. Fiona Apple, Radiohead, and Bob Dylan). They also played a few originals: one untitled piece by Brad Mehldau and a couple of Thile’s (Chopped Down Your Shade Tree and the Punch Brothers’ Me and Us). It’s hard for me to pick out highlights since the show was of such consistently high quality, but I think if I had to pick favorites I’d go with (more…)